Boogie Woogie Birthplace Is Official
Marshall organizers brought Boogie King Nat Dove to town a few years ago for a special Boogie Woogie Wednesday event. Plans are underway to bring more music of this genre to the “Birthplace of Boogie Woogie” in the coming year.
In the Harrison County logging camps of the Texas and Pacific Railway, the throbbing beat of boogie-woogie was created by newly freed African-Americans.
Recently the Harrison County Historical Commission and local citizens in Marshall accomplished a long-time goal of getting a Texas Historical Commission plaque erected in the town to honor their city as “The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie.” The story on the marker is written by Jack Canson and is based on many years of research by musicologist Dr. John Tennison. It reads as follows:
“According to oral tradition and documented evidence, the Boogie Woogie musical genre, with its driving, iconic left-hand rhythm, originated in the area of Marshall, Harrison County, in the early 1870s. During that decade, Marshall became the headquarters of the Texas & Pacific Railway Company and a hub for railroad transportation of cotton, timber, and passengers, creating employment for recently emancipated African American laborers. Many African Americans worked in logging camps cutting trees and loading logs for locomotives to haul to sawmills, and most logging camps had a piano in the barrel house to keep the workers entertained in the camps at night.
“It was in these barrel houses of East Texas logging camps where the first Boogie Woogies were played as largely untrained piano players developed techniques to entertain working-class audiences under loud, chaotic, and often dangerous conditions. The driving left-hand bass patterns that are uniquely characteristic of Boogie Woogie piano, so highly suggestive of a steam locomotive chugging over iron rails, clearly are inspired and influenced by the sounds of the logging camp and the rail yard.
“Itinerant piano players rode the rails, often performing in exchange for free rides, and the music traveled with them, first to red-light districts of Texarkana and Shreveport, followed by Houston and New Orleans, then gradually reaching African-American neighborhoods in St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. Brothers George and Hersal Thomas were among the first to publish sheet music for Boogie Woogie which they said they first heard in East Texas. Boogie Woogie masters Huddle ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter, Floyd Dixon, and Dave Alexander (Omar Sharriff) grew up in the Marshall area. An East Texas original, Boogie Woogie may still be found in many genres of music today.”
The marker is located in the Ginocchio Historic District on North Washington Avenue within viewing distance of the historic Texas and Pacific Railway Depot. Area organizers are promising an increased number of events for 2019 to continue their celebrations of Boogie Woogie music in its birth town. To plan a visit to Marshall, go to www.marshalltexas.net.